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August 19, 2017

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Multicultural collaboration leads to greater success

AS our society becomes more culturally diverse, organizations are understanding the need to work with other organizations to “turn up the sound,” so their voices are heard and their issues addressed. This means individuals and institutions can no longer deny the sometimes-uncomfortable realities of cultural diversity.

They have to come to grips with our multicultural society, or we won’t get anything done. But how do we do that?

Many organizers may not have the answers but they realize they have to develop new strategies and tactics to attract multicultural interest in their collaborative initiatives.

They also know there will be problems to solve if their collaborations are to be effective. This article considers ways to help organizations collaborate effectively with people of different cultures.


First of all, what’s the difference between a coalition, a collaboration, and a multicultural collaboration? A coalition involves two or more organizations working together around an issue or a common set of interrelated issues that they can’t address on their own.

The purpose is to harness influence and resources to have an impact on an issue beyond the grasp of one group.

A collaboration involves two or more organizations working together on multiple issues and goals in a long-term commitment. Turf protection can be high and the ability to let control go of the group’s direction is critical. Involved organizations share resources (develop, implement, and evaluate programs), establish policy, and jointly conduct educational programs. The core values of collaboration are mutual respect, a valuing of difference, and a high level of trust.

Turf protection is guarding what you see as your rightful control over an issue, a funding source, a job function, or other area, even when sharing that control could both make your job easier and make your efforts more effective.

A multicultural collaboration is between two or more groups or organizations, each comprised of members from different cultural backgrounds and orientations, or with goals or missions oriented to populations with differing cultures.

The cultural differences among groups may consist of ethnic heritage, values, traditions, languages, history, sense of self and racial attitudes. Any of these cultural features can become barriers to working together. Unless they become part of the relationship, the collaboration will be challenged.

Culture is one of the most powerful forces in our world. It’s central to what we see, how we make sense of our world, and how we express ourselves. As people from different cultural groups work together, values sometimes conflict. When we don’t understand each other we sometimes react in ways that make a partnership ineffective. Often, we’re not aware that cultural differences are the root of miscommunication.

In an effective multicultural collaboration, as with any other collaboration, the participants must have a sense of common purpose. But they must consider that different cultural groups may have differing ideas about how leaders are chosen and exercise power, and about how conflict and disagreement should be managed.

To build a collaboration

There are three steps to developing any collaboration:

• Define the setting of the problem.

• Set a direction.

• Implement your plan.

Multicultural collaboration requires considerations that may not be involved in other collaborations.

There are four components in building a multicultural collaboration:

• Formulate and state clearly the vision and mission of the collaboration to model the multicultural relationships.

• Practice new and various modes of communication and special support.

• Create leadership opportunities for everyone, especially minorities and women.

• Engage in activities that are culturally sensitive or that directly fight oppression.

Building a multicultural collaboration entails changing the way people think, perceive, and communicate. Embracing cultural differences is at the core of the group’s perspective on issues, possible solutions, and membership and operating procedures. The organization’s structure, leadership, and activities must reflect multiple perspectives, styles, and priorities.

Changing how the organization looks and acts is just the first step in the ongoing process of creating a reality that maximizes and celebrates diversity.

Collaboration is a process involving organizations working toward a goal they can’t reach alone. The process requires long-term commitment and an understanding that there will be shared risks, responsibilities, and rewards. Successful collaboration must be based on mutual respect, a valuing of difference, trust, a plan, lots of patience, determination to adopt new attitudes and pull in partners not usually involved, and, most of all, a sense of common purpose.

Multicultural collaboration adds the challenge of overcoming the communication barriers of different cultures, ethnic heritage, values, traditions, language, history, sense of self and racial attitudes. These barriers must be conquered in order for the collaboration to succeed.

Participants in an effective multicultural collaboration must have inclusive leadership that understands and strives for diversity, while dealing with problems and conflict along the way. If the focus remains on the common goal and equal power for everyone involved, the collaboration will have a great chance of success.


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